Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Johnny Oates, 1991 Topps Traded #85T

It’s not often that you get Hall of Fame news in late March…unless it’s the Orioles Hall of Fame. The 2010 inductees have a decidedly Uniformed Personnel theme, as former pitching coach and manager Ray Miller and one-time first base coach and manager Johnny Oates will receive the honors this summer. (Sure, Johnny began his playing career as a reserve catcher with the O’s in the early 1970s, but a .262 average with four home runs in 90 games doesn’t get you many votes.)

I think both men are fine additions to the orange and black shrine, especially given the lack of standout players left to be recognized; this year’s eligibles included Roberto Alomar (only an Oriole for three years), Mike Bordick (I guess it depends on how much you value defense), Jesse Orosco (probably a better candidate for the Guinness Book of World Records), and Rafael Palmeiro (the wounds are too fresh).

Of course Miller (a.k.a. “Rabbit”) was a native of Suitland, MD who never made it to the major leagues but still had a considerable impact on several pitching staffs. He finished his active career as a player-coach at AAA Rochester, where manager Joe Altobelli convinced him to wear both hats for a mere $1,000 raise. Soon the Baltimore organization hired him as a full-time coach, and within four years he was finally in the big leagues, where his pupils enjoyed measurable success. From 1978-1984, Miller coached five twenty-game winners (Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Steve Stone, and Mike Boddicker) and two Cy Young recipients (Flanagan and Stone). The O's also went to two World Series in that span, winning it all in 1983. He had a brief stint managing the Twins before spending a decade tutoring the Pirates pitching staff (including their three straight N.L. East-winning clubs from 1990-1992). He returned to Charm City as pitching coach for the 1997 A.L. East champion Orioles, but proved to be in the right place at the wrong time when Davey Johnson "resigned" that offseason. Miller seemed frustrated and overmatched as the skipper of some aging, underachieving O's clubs in 1998-1999. He returned for a third go-round as pitching coach in 2004-2005. The talent he had to work with paled in comparison to his previous tenures and he quickly retired for health reasons, but he did pull a rabbit out of his hat (pun intended? Perhaps) with Bruce Chen (13-10, 3.83 ERA in 2005).

As for Oates, I sincerely believe that Baltimore fans and management didn't know what they had with him until he was gone. Peter Angelos (who had inherited Johnny from the previous ownership) booted his skipper after only three-plus seasons, despite the fact that he had won 54% of his games in his three full seasons at the helm. When the players' strike brought the 1994 campaign to a halt, the Birds trailed Cleveland by only two and a half games in the wild card race. Oates had a reputation as one of the nicest men you would ever meet, and had a dry sense of humor to boot. In 1991, then-Royals outfielder Danny Tartabull hit .523 (23 for 44) with five home runs against the O's. As the Orioles prepared to host K.C. for one particular series that year, the manager was asked about his strategy for facing Tartabull:

“I’m going to find out what his room number is and call the hotel and say, ‘Cancel my wakeup call’. Then I’m going to call the cab companies and tell them not to have any taxis in front of the hotel; we’ll make him walk to the ball park. Then I’ll tell security not to let him in without an ID. Then I’ll tell Freddy (Tyler, the clubhouse man) to burn his uniform, and if he still makes it, I’ll walk him.”

After the O's and Johnny parted ways, he was hired in about a minute by the Rangers. In his six full seasons in Texas, he led the club to their only three playoff appearances...but won just a single postseason game in three division series against the Yankees. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor shortly after resigning from his post in 2001. Somewhat remarkably, he survived for three years when the prognosis only gave him twelve months. In that time, he was able to attend his daughter's wedding, his grandchild's birth, and his induction into the Rangers Hall of Fame. He was only 58 when he did succumb to the illness on Christmas Eve, 2004. But while he won't be on hand to be honored by the team that drafted him and gave him his first big league coaching and managing jobs, he'll certainly be there in spirit.


Commish said...

Great entry, Kevin. RIP Johnny Oates.

Rounding Thirty 3rd said...

Great post, Kevin. My only "complaint" would be that I would have liked each entrant to get their own post entry (and card pictured).

Both are well deserving entrants into the O's HOF!

Rounding Thirty 3rd said...

Hmm, does Ray Miller even have an Orioles card? I couldn't find one easily. Maybe I should have been less critical.

Kevin said...

Bob - Thanks as always.

Tim - If there's a Ray Miller O's card, I've never seen it. I have a 1986 Topps card of him, when he was managing the Twins.